The Magnanimity of St. John the Baptist

It is indisputable that Our Blessed Lord held His second cousin, John the Baptist, in high regard. Jesus said, "Among those born of women, there has been none greater than John the Baptist." Why did Christ pay John such high praise? The Gospel reveals at least two reasons.

First, Christ praised John for his humility and deference. As appealing as John the Baptist was to his hearers, he always identified himself as nothing more than a messenger. Consider that, after awhile, John the Baptist attracted his own followers. In fact, some of the Lord's own apostles, including John, James and Andrew, originally were disciples of John the Baptist. And yet, the Baptist never intended to attract people to himself. Instead, he lived to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Moreover, he never received the earthly consolation of having seen Jesus complete His earthly ministry. When Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized, John said, "Behold the Lamb of God," and his followers immediately left him to follow Jesus. There was no trace of jealousy or bitterness on the part of John the Baptist. He did not ask Our Lord for praise or any signs of gratitude. He merely sowed the seeds of repentance and conversion that Jesus would take up in His own public ministry.

Second, Christ esteemed John the Baptist for his perseverance in witness and his enduring desire to lead all persons to God. The Gospel account relates that John continued to give witness to Jesus while in prison. Although incarcerated, John continued to point to the Lamb of God — his zeal for Jesus could not be contained by prison walls. While in prison, John was able to receive some visitors and he sent them away to Jesus with a question. John wanted his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" We may wonder why John wanted his disciples to pose such a question.

 To gain the proper perspective, we turn to St. Thomas of Villanova, a 16th century Augustinian friar and bishop. St. Thomas tells us that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question in order to provide for them. Fully aware that death was imminent, John wanted his disciples to come into the care of Christ. John also sent his disciples with the question so as to give Jesus an opportunity to speak to the crowds, not so much in words but by pointing to His deeds. When asked if he was the Messiah, Christ replied, "Go and report to John what you have heard. The blind are receiving their sight, the lame are walking, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." It is as if Jesus said, "The works that I am doing are my witness." This reveals a simple truth about Christ: not only could He preach the kingdom of God — He could prove His efficacy by His works, including His decision when to lay down His life and take it up again.

During the season of Advent, we do well to imitate these virtues of the great John the Baptist: humility, deference to Christ, perseverance in witness, and an enduring zeal to lead all persons to Jesus — the focal point of all human history and the hope of all mankind. May we esteem these virtues as signs of true greatness in the sight of God.

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  • Guest

    What a profound post, Domingo!  I wonder if the priesthood is in your future?

  • Guest

    Thank you, and be it God's will, the priesthood may just yet be in my future. I do not know. I am praying for my vocation right now, and I ask that you please remember me in your prayers – so that I, above all, shall do always God's will over my own. Thank you so much again, and God bless.

     

    Your dearest brother in Christ,

     

    Domingo 

  • Guest

    NOTE: The post that Claire refers to in the above post is this one. It was moved down after I fixed some grammatical errors in it. I apologize for the inconvenience.

    A great article Father, but when I observed the readings for this Sunday, I interpreted them differently. I mean not to imply that what you have said is wrong – it is not. I am only 16 years old, and I would simply like to share how I viewed this.

     

    When John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" I believe that this question was done out of doubt. John was had spent his entire life preparing the way for Jesus, and suddenly he was in prison. The cold, stone walls and darkness of the cell caused him to wonder: "Is what I have been doing really worth it? Have my works been in vain?" He begins to have a doubt that maybe this "Jesus" is not the correct Jesus. Was he the one he had been prophesying for, or was there another?

     

    I think the Gospel meant to relate to a common problem amongst the pious Catholics of today. Those devout individuals you see singing in the choir, decorating the churches, teaching students – the parish priests. Sometimes they begin to wonder if what they are doing really makes a difference. Take that choir, which comes every Sunday or Saturday to sing, for an example. They may begin to wonder: "Is our singing here really worth it? Is it really making a difference? The people don't sing, and no one seems to care about us!" (and these are all problems amongst my parish). The decorators wonder: "Does anyone care that I stay here during the late hours of the night to decorate this church? Every time, it seems like someone has something to say about what I did wrong!" The teacher wonders if the students even care – if whether they even need to be there. And even the parish priest may lose hope. My priest, as a matter of fact, has been here for nine years. He said the first seven were the most miserable years ever. He asked himself, "Do I really need to be here? The people don't care, nothing happens right…should I just leave?"

     

    John has begun to doubt his works. And how does Jesus respond to his question of "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?" It is not a direct "yes" or "no" he sends back to John. Rather he says this:

    “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
    the blind regain their sight,
    the lame walk,
    lepers are cleansed,
    the deaf hear,
    the dead are raised,
    and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
    And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

     

    In other words, He says look around you. You feel that your work goes unrewarding, but look around you! Miracles have happened because of you. The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised! The choir's work does not go unnoticed. They have combined their vocal talent given by God with the prayers of the priest. They have doubled the prayer and enhanced the liturgy! The decorator has made better the image of the tabernacle, cleaning it and making it grandly picturesque for the occasion. The teacher, who has so devotedly taught, has instilled knowledge within their students and has loved them – has given them the opportunity to go on in their education. The priest – he has brought God to the people! How much better can it get?

    I relate to an actual situation currently happening at my parish: My priest once lost hope, and began to question his presence here. Did it matter that he was here? Nothing goes right and no one cares! He thought to himself. He doubted the fruitfulness of his works. But he began to look at the improvements that had been made and he came to a sudden realization. Societies were being reformed and created. For instance, the Guadalupanas society has been created and has grown substantially enough to be recognized by our diocese. The Catholic Daughters of America has grown in spirituality and size. The Knights of the Sanctuary – the servers of the Altar (of which I am part of) has become so great, the Cathedral of our diocese has requested multiple times for our servers to serve their masses – over their own servers, because their servers just didn't cut it. Great things have happened since our priest came, and it is all thanks to him. His works have not gone unfruitful…

     

    And so I believe the message, from my view entirely, is to not lose hope in your works. Look around you, and see the great good they have done. And if you feel like nobody cares, remember that everything you do with sincerity will be noticed by God. Nothing you do will go unnoticed if you do it for the greater glory of God.

     

    I thank you for your time Father, and again, I enjoyed your article. God bless.

     

    Your dearest brother in Christ,

     

    Domingo

     

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